Home   News   Article

Jock still flying high after 62 years with Elgin and District Pigeon Racing Club

By Alistair Whitfield

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
Jock Jack has been racing pigeons for over 62 years. Picture: Beth Taylor.
Jock Jack has been racing pigeons for over 62 years. Picture: Beth Taylor.

Walt Disney, Bill Shankly and Queen Elizabeth II all did it.

Mike Tyson and Caley Thistle boss Duncan Ferguson still do.

However, it's doubtful any of these famous pigeon racers are as committed as Jock Jack.

A member of Elgin and District Racing Pigeon Club for the past 62 years, Jock is still passionate about a sport sometimes labelled the working-class version of horse racing.

He says: "Virtually anyone could afford to own a couple of birds. It doesn't matter if you're a king or a pauper, you can still win a race.

"Some birds change hands for money, but you can end up being more successful with one you got for free."

Jock looks after his pigeons with help from wife, Frances, and fellow club member William 'Buzz' Hutcheson.

The numbers fluctuate, but there are currently 56 housed in the immaculately-kept pigeon loft next to his home in the Deanshaugh suburb of Elgin.

Even to the untrained eye these birds look different to those who strut about the town's pavements.

Jock says: "A racing pigeon is the result of selective breeding and it's like an athlete. They can reach speeds of up to 60mph, and fly for 15 or 16 hours.

"A fat pigeon isn't going to win any races, so they have to be looked after properly and fed a healthy diet."

Inside the pigeon loft which Jock cleans every day. Picture: Beth Taylor.
Inside the pigeon loft which Jock cleans every day. Picture: Beth Taylor.

The sport of pigeon racing relies on the fact that these birds possess a superpower.

You can take one more than 500 miles away from where it lives, to a place it's never been before, yet instead of flapping around lost, it will directly set off back home.

As to how this in-built GPS system works, there are various theories involving the sun, the stars and the earth's magnetic fields, but even scientists can't say for sure.

Jock says: "Pigeons are real home lovers. It's not even about food, although they are hungry and thirsty when they return. First and foremost, though, they just seem to like familiar surroundings."

Jock and the other members of the club train their birds by gradually sending them further and further away.

An annual event sees some of the best ones released from Hastings, a town on the south coast of England which, as the pigeon flies, is nearly 600 miles from Elgin.

In an average season the club takes part in a dozen races, plus another eight shorter events for young birds aged below a year.

Up until the recent bird flu outbreaks it also entered occasional races on the continent.

Nowadays the sport utilises all sorts of modern technology to gauge which birds have returned home the quickest.

However, humans have been putting the incredible homing skills of pigeons to various uses for at least the last 3500 years.

The Ancient Egyptians would send messages downstream whenever the River Nile looked set to flood.

Julius Caesar, during his conquest of what's now France, relied on the birds to relay commands to his legions.

In the mid-19th century Reuters news agency flew information about the latest share prices between the capitals of Europe.

That was also the era when pigeon racing first became popular in the UK, with the emergence of the railway network allowing the birds to be sent quickly to distant points.

This connection between railways and pigeons continued through the decades.

Jock remembers how the Inverurie stationmaster would regularly take delivery of a consignment of birds on the train from Elgin, then release them to fly back home.

He also recalls a racing event in 1965 when 30,000 pigeons were let loose from Elgin train station to return to their owners in Wales.

The National Pigeon Service membership card from the Second World War. Picture: Beth Taylor.
The National Pigeon Service membership card from the Second World War. Picture: Beth Taylor.

Amongst Jock's possessions is a membership card for a Second World War organisation called the National Pigeon Service, which played a part in rescuing lives during the conflict.

It originally belonged to another Jock, namely John 'Jock' McDonald, a fellow club member for many years until his death.

He and other local enthusiasts trained up pigeons to return to air bases including RAF Lossiemouth.

Wartime flight crews would release one of these birds with their co-ordinates if they were about to crash land due to enemy fire or mechanical failure.

It's the breeding season and Jock is expecting a next generation of birds to begin hatching this coming week.

He's also hoping a few younger folk will be inspired to get involved with the sport.

He says: "I've been doing this since I was 14, but there's always something to learn. And there's a real excitement on race day. I still get a kick from watching my birds coming into land."

For information about joining Elgin and District Racing Pigeon Club, email mcgdai@aol.com

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More